Archive for the ‘Broadcasting’ Category

Op-Ed: Sports Reporting 2011: Data, Photos, & Compromise

There’s an elephant in the room. It’s you and I.

Courtesy the Pitch Invasion blog...

As TSG scribbles–apologies–types or thumbs words on this page, it’s that very role that’s becoming redundant and antiquated as sports reporting, soccer reporting, hurtles through the Mobile Era.

Back in the day of immovable typeface, sports reporting was the very essence of what a newspaper is. Events would transpire the day or evening before, and a dutiful scribe would take notes, describe the action, and hustle it to the press so that it would be set for morning delivery.

Newspapers traveled in small circumferences around their city’s epicenter and were purchased “on the way” somewhere, serving fodder for water cooler talk later that morning. The sports report, unless you listened to the game on the radio or watched it with friends, was your lifeline to understanding your team.

A sports writer’s account was invaluable. He was on the ground, at the action and had the resume of past experience to qualify him to add his opinion on team.

In my own childhood, a favorite Sunday pasttime was the post-church, pre-sports day combination of brunch and the New York tabloids. Box scores galore, authors like Vescey–George, not Peter–Frank Isola and Filip Bondy.

Fast forward the Delorean to 2011 and, as any person reading this piece can tell you, that world has been shaken up, turned upside down, picked back up and spilled out into a million pieces.

Sports “reporting” is no longer what it used to be and in fact has almost “positively regressed” to the simplest of communication: signal, receiver, feedback in a near lightspeed-like loop.

The press box needs a rethink as well....(courtesy Noah Davis)

Today, no one waits for the daily. That daily comes out instantaneously as the game concludes. Having sat in the press box, it’s a sad yet necessary scene: reporters–through no fault of their own, but the dynamic of “internet news”–are forced to write their game summary as the game is going on. If you’re paying attention at home you’ll see a decrease in tweets and or late description of events that transpired after the 75th minute or so.

For the USA vs. Chile game in January, I watched as the multitudes of those around me furiously typed their notes, seeking to “publish” as the game concluded for “maximum hits” and then scurry to the mixed zone to get quotes to add later or to another piece.

The necessity of textually describing a game once it’s concluded is extinct; not endangered, extinct. That’s what YouTube and ESPN are for these days.

Recently, TSG’s Jay Bell went to the USA vs. Paraguay match. As he “tweeted” out the action, I encouraged him to describe instead “what the audience couldn’t see or feel on TV.” Things like: who is toeing the touchline and may be used as a sub or what does the crowd look or feel like.

With the advent of widely-adopted HDTV and instantaneous replay, you at home are better qualified to describe what happened on a play, not me up in the box for the most part. There’s a good chance your camera angle better captured that handball rather than my 20/20 nosebleed. (The lone exception here being full field player location or deployment.)

After a play happens in the press box, eyes typically shoot up to a small TV in a corner that shows a replay–the same one you see at home–at the same time everyone is furiously giving their opinion on Twitter.

Many of the most respected US reporters that went to the World Cup took in the games in the venue that gave them the best opportunity to watch and opine on the action, the living room of their rented villas.

Sports “reporting” really is becoming just a technology and rights game. I don’t mean rights as in a company like Attributor attempting to police the internet for illegally pilfered content. I mean rights to statistical or “count” data, quotes (or access) and photos.

Who is compiling how many shots are “on goal” in the 2nd frame? Who is taking the pictures that in the age of immediacy and quick attention spans root the reader to the story?

And, in fact, quotes or obtaining quotes may be less and less valuable. Twitter now is the preferred medium for quotes. Why? Because it is an environment of ambiguity (“I didn’t really mean to say that,” “My tweet was received incorrectly”), brevity (how direct can I be in 140 characters) and deletion (I don’t like what I said it’s gone just as quickly as I wrote it.).

Athletes are ever so slightly less conditioned to give canned responses on Twitter.

However, put them in the mixed zone line or in front of a camera where they are aware there is a permanent record of their account–one that they can’t typically and adjacently respond to–, one that can be replayed or etched in web annals and you get your favorite one-liners like “Nobody believed in us,” “Well we gave 110% today” or Bob Bradley’s favorite “We need to be sharper.” (And really what the hell does that mean because it seems to be the “solution” for everything.)

(Yes, this too can happen on Twitter, but again the brevity and ambiguity give a certain sense of protection.)

Ever so often you get a moment of engagement with an athlete, but that takes real work, the right relationship and most times their response is not pressing.

The biggest relative danger (sports guys are not covering oil-initiated strife in Nigeria) is the advent of the leagues controlling the medium and, because of the deluge and cacophony of everyone talking at once, that humans are now conditioned not to question what they’re consuming.

MLS Soccer, great coverage with an asterisk...

I love ExtraTime Radio and coverage. I do. Their smart and good guys that know their stuff. However, they’re also compromised, no matter what they spin.

They are funded by the same league who they are supposed to critique.

Now, the challenge is for them that they position themselves as a “news” and oppose to “sports lifestyle” or “an online talk show.”

Recently ExtraTime Radio had Shalrie Joseph on and the circular gushing on his leadership abilities was palpable. Where was the questioning of what he was doing getting himself in trouble late night during training camp and how that impacted his leadership abilities going into the season?

Mind you, there are exceptions, Simon Borg challenging Oguchi Onyewu’s leadership in the wake of his no-comment press job after the US-Colombia match last year. But what happened there? Other soccer media luminaries came to Onyewu’s defense? Either to curry favor with fans or perhaps the player’s agent.

I have never seen a Postcard from Europe that does not have a positive slant to it. Did Sacha Kljestan expect to get more games when he moved to Anderlecht in Belgium? You bet he did.

TSG is guilty of it too mind you, though we also make a concerted effort not to let it happen. Our Michael Bradley coverage almost seems quite zealous at times as we quixotically have pursued the reason why his spot on the national team is never challenged.

We’ve dubbed Alejandro Bedoya as “the Ambassador to Brazil” although his spot on a potential Brazil 2014 US World Cup team is certainly not assured.

And therein lies the challenge for sports reporting going forward.

This is not about the evolution of the sports reporter into some new news beast.

It’s how can an independent and objective source can compete financially and maybe just survive in a world where one, everybody now has the ability to broadcast, two, access to sports figures is determined by how you interact with them online (that’s really nothing new though, but on hyperdrive) and three, the professional leagues themselves–MLS, NFL, MLS–have a financially vested interest to control and distribute the message.

When it comes down to it, anybody can layer a report over just data and photos. That’s both the opportunity and the challenge.

Oh and I’m sure about a quarter of TSG’s audience just asked, “They’ve got sports coverage in newspapers?”

Other required reading on this topic:

(Mavericks Owner) Mark Cuban: What’s The Role of Media For A Sports Team

TSG On “Knowing When” With Injuries

Not sticking out in the land of Stumptown coffee....

TSG: “You know, you put a flannel shirt on Rooney and he’s going to fit right in up in P-town.”

Kyle: “Guy looks just like a freaking lumberback too.”

Kyle Martino and I had a chance to chat over coffee this morning. For those new to TSG, we reached out Kyle when he was back at ESPN because we’re a big fan of his play-by-play.

We were talking Rooney heading to Nikeville to recuperate and our chat turned to injuries as Kyle and I discussed the recent spat of injury news headlines (Rooney, Hargreaves, Twellman) in the soccer world. It also turned personal and I wanted to share our sentiments.

In 2004, I ruptured my second ACL. This time, my left knee. My last replacement consisted of a patella tendon replacement on the right knee way back in college. For those unfamiliar (and hopefully that’s the bulk of you) with knee surgeries, there are three basic ways to replace an ACL: cadaver graft, hamstring graft, patella graft.

As you move from left to right along the “grafts,” the relative “strength” of the repair goes up as the speed of to recover goes down.

For my left knee I selected a hamstring graft as means of speedier recovery with still adequate strength for an active lifestyle. Bad decision.

Being an avid ultimate frisbee player with tournaments consisting of at minimum four grueling games over two days, I consistently felt the injury…in my hamstring despite assurances by my doctor that I “wouldn’t miss” the piece of sinew that was taken.

My anonymous disc profile...hmm...maybe mimics my on field play?

The injury really came to a head for me at the World Ultimate Frisbee Championships in Perth, Australia in 2006 (yes you read that last phrase correctly….there are world championships).

A seven day tournament where you consistently go up against the best (meaning you can’t take a single play off), by day four of the tournament I was heavily wrapping the hamstring and taking ibuprofen, by day six it was duct tape over the wrap and vicodin. Needless to stay, not smart and you can’t possibly play your best on medication and with a robo-fix.

Players will do anything to play….which leads to Kyle’s story.

Martino’s tale has a different slant and, as I learned today, is even more harrowing.

Martino for the Galaxy...

He tore his hip and eight weeks later he was practicing with the US team and taking on international sides in January camp 2006.

Later that year upon World Cup roster selection, Martino had this to say about the invitation and injury:

“I wasn’t going to regret for the next four years not going into that camp.”

“If I had to do it over a hundred times, I’d do it again. That was my only shot. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.”

This morning?

“They should never let athletes make the decision on playing, any athlete is going to want to get back on the field as soon as they can. Even lie to themselves.”

“I probably…I shouldn’t have come back that soon.”

“I played the entire next year with effects of the injury and surgery, wearing the thickest compression shorts that you’ve ever seen. Before each game, in the trainer’s popping pills and getting ready. Ruined my career.”

While we both had difference experiences and Martino’s obviously more dramatic and crippling to his livelihood, we agreed on the need to find the absolute best doctor you can and listen to them.

Martino had much more to say on the topic of injuries so we’re negotiating with some Black Crows tickets to get him to pen a piece for us on the topic in the next few weeks.

The thesis of course, “The doctors should make the call.” Something that the NFL is wrestling with in abundance right now.

Off Topic: In The Rotation

Your requested follow-up: Music picks…

Don’t worry this post is buried under a soccer one.

Can’t really do a top ten list or anything here and I’ll try to stay away from those already popular. Some of those likes include David Gray, Mos Def, Jurassic 5, Eddie Vedder, Radiohead, Bon Iver, Jeff Buckley, Jose Gonzalez to name a few.

Let’s just throw out some more on the mellow or muffled pop front to get us going here for a Friday mini-feature.

Jesus Navas Class: Silky smooth moves coming off the wing or up top. Hooks and lines at you like step-overs.

Includes: MC’s, Instrumental, more

• People Under The Stairs

The pride of Los Angeles, most people think they’re from the Bay Area. Great hooks, like to maintain their underground status. Almost a little too much.

Fans of: Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Blackalicious

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Mark Schlereth: Indirect Commentary On Soccer

Update: You’re right.

Oops. My bad.

As I’ve mentioned before on TSG, the best part about this publication is the astute, well-thought-out replies that exist in the commentary section.

A number of good points in there today regarding this piece.

I do still maintain, despite the author not being as qualified and despite invoking soccer (both which he can be taken to task for), that Schlereth’s points on the “contact nature” of football as driving popularity are valid.


One of the things I preach in business and is a common business phrase is the question “What are you solving for?” I ask myself that when I write any piece. It’s important not necessarily to have a clear goal of what you want to get across (that comes out in the writing) but have, well, a grasp of what issue, point that “you are solving for?”

Failed miserably in this piece this morning. I took a piece that was a commentary on the NFL that wove a disparaging remark on soccer into it and used it as a basis for commentary on how the beautiful game is played.

My bad. I’ll chalk it up–incorrectly–to being up at 4am with the newborn who, despite being a baby girl, fairly looks like Carlos from the Hangover these days.


I put the video up below because it actually plays well if you’re a sports fan in general.

I love when people take a stand for what they believe in right or wrong.

Mark Schlereth rants on the NFL–calling it the National Hypocrite League–in this video and it’s a good one. He makes a one-word reference to soccer around the 3:30 mark, that taken out of context reads, “We’re selling videos! The reason why the NFL is popular? You take away the contact away guess what you are . You’re soccer. That’s (contact) why Americans love football.”

….and Schlereth is spot-on!

His rant is not a knock on soccer and by no means should be taken as such.

In fact, it’s accurate commentary on why soccer is a less popular sport in the United States because American’s appreciate contact. (Can you say MMA?)

Contact, in soccer, is huge part of the game….perhaps Schlereth doesn’t understand how much (that is a fair criticism of his statements here)…but it’s not the object of the game at all turns.

In fact, soccer is a beautiful game, in my mind, because it combines ferocious contact at times immediately juxtaposed against ballet-like grace.

Hockey is the only other game that has that beautiful dicotomy of play in the same range. It’s what makes both great.

For The Youngsters: Vinnie Jones

Jones as "Bullet-Tooth Tony" in Guy Ritchie's Snatch...

For some of you who read TSG, you probably only know Vinnie Jones as a gangster in Guy Richie flicks like “Lock, Stock…” and “Snatch.” He’ll soon also be appearing in the much anticipated “The Irishman” about a thug working in Cleveland in the ’70s.

Before that, Jones ate nails for breakfast as a midfielder for Leeds, Chelsea, and Sheffield United among others. He also featured for the Welsh national team nine times.

But Jones is best known for his “tough guy” act on the field (that he then parlayed into his tough guy acting career).

For those of you new to Jones, the picture below is an infamous one when VJ played for Wimbledon United and sought to intimidate Newcastle opponent Paul Gascoigne by grabbing his jewel basket.

Below that Jones featured in the notorious ’90s documentary, “Soccer’s Hard Men.”

Vinnie Jones

Jones in stereo…

An addition from Shaun…

Op-Ed: Fox Soccer Minus

This is a guest column by frequent TSG contributor Jay Bell.

Jay Bell begs to differ on the "Plus" part...

This international break is just concluding. Americans got a chance to watch some of their favorite countries play all over the world, except for the U.S. of course.

Fans got a chance to see the best teams in the world play, and for Europeans these games count.

Now U.S.-based fans will go back to MLS.

Some will be disappointed that MLS isn’t of better quality to compare with Euro qualifying (though, not many leagues are). For those who go back to watching Fox Soccer Channel’s “Match of the Week,” only more disappointment awaits. For a company that just began Fox Soccer Plus earlier in the year and fawns over the EPL, Serie A, and Champions League, FSC is still a huge disappointment for MLS fans.

You only have to look at the ratings to see that FSC’s presentation is still lacking. ESPN2 is now in about 98 million homes. The average 257,000 viewers is even down 10% from last season. Still that’s a .26. FSC has been able to get a boost from the World Cup and its broadcasts since have averaged 69,000 households and 92,000 viewers. That’s .17. For comparison, Telefutura’s Spanish broadcasts average 193,000 viewers. How does the soccer channel do worse than the other broadcasts?

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Media Biz of Soccer: SB Nation, Softball, More…

Some minor happenings in the media business of soccer:

Um, that's not a soccer ball for sure...

• Just throwing this one out there: Men’s Softball.

I’m trying to work “soccer” into that comment, but really can’t.

Add another sport that will compete with MLS for viewership and production support. Softball.

The MLS…A (that’s MLSA) just announced their formation in June of this year in hopes of growing a league.

It is estimated 40M play softball in the United States (International Softball Federation) compared to about 25M for soccer (FIFA).

Softball should be a walk-in-the-park for ESPN. They have the production understanding from baseball and women’s softball, and they can follow their blueprint for poker by focusing on “the average Joe” and letting the personality of said “Joe” come through just like in poker (think: Phil Helmuth, Phil Ivey).

Finally, suds and home improvement sponsors would be waiting at the door the day the coverage began.

• If you write your own soccer blog on one of the global platforms, you may want to take a look at what’s happening in the burgeoning world-of-sport web platforms.

SB Nation is catching up in readership to Bleacher Report whilst the former heads of are about to make it a three-horse race.

The former, SB Nation, secured $8M in funding just about a year ago now and is starting to develop ties with ESPN. Their overall readership across their sites is about 1/3 that of the Bleacher Report.

Bleacher Report is aligned heavily with CBS and recently swapped out their CEO (bringing on the head of Yahoo Sports to take the company to the proverbial next level).

I would give SB Nation the leg up here–not in terms of functionality or technology–but, if you’re a soccer writer, in terms of supporting and growing the soccer coverage.

No regular soccer coverage on CBS.

One more note here: for the life of me I can’t understand how Google News labels Bleacher Report and SB Nation stories news, while meatier fare gets relegated to the “Blogs” service.

Martino sports a much different 'do these days...

• Watched some of Kyle Martino’s show on Fox Soccer Channel. Your thoughts?

One comment as the show kicks off:

You can’t stay stagnant with the studio. I would have thought Fox Soccer would have sunk a little bit more money into a set that looks very much like Fox Football Fone-In.

It’s important to break from the set of a former show–especially one in the same time slot–to show commitment to the new show, and to show advertisers that you are sinking money into the new show.

You think FSC–which has their contract with MLS coming up this year for renewal–would have opened up the billfold on the set a little more.

You can see out previous interview with Kyle here.

• An update on our Spurs finances piece, Tottenham Hotspur is one of only five teams in the EPL to sell out their season. (Arsenal, Chelsea, Blackpool, Manchester City and Spurs.)

Now it’s up to Dan Levy to manage those finances and add enough talent to make Champs League play a reoccurring theme, today’s stumble against the Young Boys non-withstanding.

• Had a good Twitter discussion with Tripp Mickle (a solid columnist for Sports Business Journal with a seriously awesome NASCAR name) on MLS and the networks. I disagree with him, but he has fair points.

His Tweet that got me a little fired up (since media is supposedly part of my bailiwick):

Is MLS eyeing its own network in the future? Don’t rule it out. The league hired CSTV and Classic co-founder Brian Bedol for media advice.

Our discussion:

@trippmickle Have a hard time thinking that MLS at present, could build out/manage production talent, infrastructure, promotions, etc. $$

@shinguardian No doubt an #MLS net would be years into the future, but as the league continues to expand, it’s not out of the picture.

@trippmickle That’s kind of very open-ended. :> I would suggest it wouldn’t happen for 15 years, thoughts?

@shinguardian Tough to predict. Maybe around a ’22 World Cup in the U.S. Maybe out of necessity in ’14 after Univision /ESPN rights end.

My thoughts here:

Tripp and I are on the same page. MLS and an MLS network is likely about double-digit years away. So for now, TSG rules it out…in 7 years, maybe time to start considering it. Extended thoughts:

» First, it can’t possibly outlay the infrastructure (production resources, talent, ad sales, equipment, etc.) that is necessary to fire up their own network when the league is not in stable financial straits just yet.

» Second, the MLS advertising base is not there. It’s not like they can actually sell the product just yet and just extend an advertisers media plan to “television and internet.” Much easier to do TV when you merely extend a media buy to television.

…General rule of thumb in media is you need about a 1.0 rating to attract major branded advertisers. For perspective, MLS regularly does about a .2 with a high of .39 earlier this year when Landon Donovan returned to the Galaxy for a July 4th game after the World Cup.

• Speaking of watching the ‘tube: A .5 rating for USA vs. Brazil…that…and the revenue…is why you hold that friendly. Nothing to sneeze at there. Solid numbers for the USMNT, if not a solid performance.

• And yes folks, we’re due to do a sequel to this piece…coming soon. As a note, it looks like ESPN is following a little of our schematic….’cept on the web front (minus Jeff Carlisle).


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